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LAWRENCEBURG – The Collins softball team was digging the long ball Monday night.
The Titans smashed five home runs to outslug crosstown-rival Shelby County, 16-9, in the 30th District Tournament semifinals at Anderson County’s four-bagger-friendly field.
Bailey Rankin hit two round-trippers and Lauren Shepherd, Shelbi Poehlein and Danaria Lewis one each for Collins, which played the host Bearcats at 6 p.m. Thursday in the district final.
“Honestly, that’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had coaching a game,” said first-year Titans Coach Suzanne Cates, whose team, with the victory, earned a place in next week’s 8th Region Tournament at Anderson. “It was a little nerve-racking at times. It seemed liked they’d swing, then we’d swing harder. It was a great game. They just didn’t quit, and neither did we.”
Collins (19-18) led, 11-4, after five innings before Shelby County made things interesting, scoring five times in the top of the sixth. The Titans, though, responded with five runs in the bottom of the inning to pull away.
Shepherd picked up the victory on the mound and also helped her cause in a big way, going 4-for-4 with a single, two doubles, a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs.
Meanwhile Rankin, thanks to her homers, finished with five RBIs as Collins beat Shelby County for the second time this season (the Titans previously had won, 14-1, on April 29 at the Shelby County Athletic Complex).
“It’s always sweet to beat Shelby County,” said Rankin, a senior left fielder who has signed with Southern (La.) University. “Me and Lauren talked to the girls about coming out here focused and not thinking we were going to win the game easy.
“We told the other girls to do their jobs, and they did it. It was a team effort.”
Poehlein went 3-for-4 with two singles, a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Lewis was 2-for-2 with a double, a home run, three RBIs and two runs scored. Freshman Janelle Hynes and eighth-grader Hannah Renfro added two hits apiece for the Titans, who totaled 10 extra-base hits.
“It’s nice, with my defense playing so well, and when your offense does that, it takes pressure off the pitcher,” Shepherd said.
One of only two Collins’ miscues – an errant pickoff throw to third base by Hynes, the Titans’ catcher – helped the Rockets (12-22) score the first run of the game in the top of the first.
Hynes, however, quickly made up for the mistake, leading off the bottom of the inning with a double off the fence. Shepherd followed with one of her own to tie the score, and two batters later Poehlein put the Titans on top for good with a homer to left field off Shelby starter Savannah Smeaton.
Collins added another run in the second when Lewis doubled, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on Lindsey Ketcham’s sacrifice fly to center field.
An RBI single by sixth-grader Elizabeth Ivers trimmed the Titans’ lead to 4-2 in the top of the third before Shepherd led off the bottom of the inning with a homer to left-center field. Collins clouted 15 homers during the regular season.
The Rockets responded with a run – on freshman Jessie Vermillion’s RBI single – in the top of the fourth before Collins put up five in the bottom of the inning. Hynes and Shepherd each had RBI singles before Rankin launched a homer that landed over the bleachers behind the left-field fence.
Seventh-grader Hannah Webb’s RBI single in the top of the fifth made it 10-4 before a sacrifice fly by Lewis, which came when Shelby senior center fielder Ari Jones robbed her of a home run.
The Rockets, who were coming off an impressive victory over Franklin County last Friday, rallied in the sixth.
Keaton Jesse and Vermillion led off with back-to-back singles before Shepherd walked Sydney Wright to load the bases. After Tori McGuire popped out, seventh-grade catcher Brianna Waits had Shelby’s lone extra-base hit of the game – a bases-clearing double into the left field corner. Ivers then reached on an error by Shepherd before Abby Wills’ RBI single.
“It seems like at least once a game I go through a rut where I’m not throwing well, but my defense backs me up,” Shepherd said.
The Titans escaped when Webb grounded out to shortstop, driving in a run, and lined out to Alex Baker at second.
“The difference between Shepherd earlier in the year and now is her confidence in herself and her defense,” Cates said. “She can get through those type of things now.”
It didn’t hurt that Collins still had some big blows up its collective short sleeves.
“We did a good job of staying calm and not getting too nervous,” Rankin said.
Shepherd led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to left field before Rankin launched a 2-run homer.
An RBI single by Janette Hynes, Janelle’s twin sister, made it 14-9 before Lewis’ lined a home run to center field that screamed over the fence and forced a fan in the center-field bleachers to duck out of the way.
In the top of the seventh Shepherd allowed a leadoff single to Jesse before retiring the next three Rockets in a row.
Wills led Shelby at the plate, going 3-for-4, and Jesse and Vermillion added two hits apiece.
“I was very proud of my girls,” Rockets Coach Kelly Cable said. “They played with hearts, guts, determination and confidence. They showed they are a team to be reckoned with and respected. They did what we asked of them and left it all on the field. I couldn’t be any more proud.”
COLLINS 16, SHELBY COUNTY 9
Shelby County 101 115 0 – 9 12 0
Collins 311 515 X – 16 17 2
Savannah Smeaton and Brianna Waits. Lauren Shepherd and Janelle Hynes. W – Shepherd (11-9). L – Smeaton (5-12). 2B – Shepherd (CHS) 2, Hynes (CHS), Lindsey Ketcham (CHS), Danaria Lewis (CHS), Waits (SCHS). HR – Poehlein (CHS), Shepherd (CHS), Bailey Rankin (CHS) 2, Lewis (CHS). Records – Shelby County 12-22, Collins 19-18.